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The reality of continuous recording for TV

To produce enough material for reality TV shows such as Big Brother, new audio techniques have developed

Reality television is, of course, not as real as it is claimed to be. Editing and direction play a part in creating drama, humour and a narrative shape. But to get all the material for this crews have to shoot almost constantly, something that has been made a lot easier and more practical by digital hard-disk and solid-state recording technology for both audio and video.

Sound recordist Simon Bishop (pictured) says this way of working has created a new production style he refers to as “blanket coverage”. The seemingly never-ending appetite of the viewing public for watching ‘ordinary people’ has given Bishop a new strand of work – specifically from the ‘find a star’ shows Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) and The X Factor – in parallel to his established position as a production mixer on UK television dramas.

“There is a new genre of production where everybody wears a radio mic if they are likely to say anything significant,” Bishop explains. “We run the multitrack from the moment they enter the building till they finish. Depending on the number of people there are this can go from eight to 64 tracks. On The X Factor we have 56-tracks that are recording for the majority of the day.”

Bishop says that 15 years ago, just before the reality TV boom really hit with Big Brother, it was “a bigger deal” to make tape machines work in the way hard-disk recorders are now being used. Depending on the job, Bishop uses SADiE, JoeCo or Sound Devices recorders for blanket coverage. “The kit is becoming more compact and user friendly,” he says.

Compactness is especially true of the Sound Devices PIX range; this includes the 270i, which records both sound and video, and the audio-only 64-track, Dante/MADI equipped 970. “It’s significantly smaller than a shoebox and for something that can be used as a bit bucket, incredibly well specified,” Bishop comments.

The 24-channel JoeCo BlackBox BBR1 records in Broadcast WAV files to an external USB2 drive; it, and its variants, have featured on a variety of reality-style programmes, including I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, The Great British Bake Off and Geordie Shore. Company founder and managing director Joe Bull says his original intention was for the system to record for long periods but he was frustrated during development of the prototype that the small drives available six years ago wouldn’t allow him to perform overnight soak recording tests.

(Concluded tomorrow!)